The Institute of Public Affairs’ Tim Wilson is apparently upset with Media Watch’s probing of whether the IPA has been running public errands for the tobacco industry in its opposition to plain tobacco packaging.

The Media Watch piece followed Wilson getting good coverage for his “rough calculations” allegedly showing that “taxpayers may be required to fatten the profits of tobacco companies by up to $3 billion a year” after wearing the findings of threatened legal action against the plain packs.

On the 7.30 Report, Wilson elaborated: “Australia has under its Constitution obligations that property rights must be compensated for, and that includes trademarks, if they’re removed by government, or, if they’re significantly devalued and that is also a requirement under our obligations in the World Trade Organisation and various other international treaties.”

Crikey readers, who might think there is some substance to these arguments, are highly recommended to watch a couple of presentations at a seminar  recently hosted  by the University of Melbourne. Wilson, the IPA’s director of the Intellectual Property and Free Trade Unit, goes head-to-head with  Professor Mark Davison, professor of law at Monash. Davison is a co-author of Shanahan’s Australian Law of Trade Marks and Passing off, the leading Australian reference work on trademark law.

The contrasts between the quality of the two presentations (the penultimate and final one in the series here) are unforgettable and make compulsory, fascinating viewing.  This is like academic blood sport. I almost wanted to turn away, but had to keep watching.

Davison’s  presentation is the most consummate demolition job of the specious huff and puff that the tobacco industry and its ideological acolytes are desperately putting about to frighten governments.

One almost feels embarrassed for Wilson, whose boy-wonder ebullience during his presentation will surely never again embrace this subject in public again. Can there be any road back from this public affairs train wreck, which has now been circulated to governments and public health advocates all over the world.

If tobacco companies are indeed funding the “neither confirm nor deny” IPA, they might reflect on the value of their investment.

Simon Chapman is professor of public health at the University of Sydney